T.D. Jakes and the mighty Quinn

TD Jakes 2This one comes to you from deep inside tmatt's GetReligion guilt file, so please hang in there with me for a moment. One of the hardest things to teach student journalists is that a true news feature story is not simply a long news story. A feature has to have a unique structure all its own and cannot be just another inverted-pyramid story, only two or three times longer.

And then there is personality profile, which is the news-feature form that I think is the hardest to write, especially here in Washington. It's hard to find people who will talk on the record, with candor, about truly powerful people. It's so easy to let the story be one-sided, a kind of soft PR package in which powerful politicians (or preachers) are framed totally in the glowing words of people who work for them.

You simply have to find those honest, critical (which is not the same thing as negative) voices to give new insights. And there is one other sin to avoid, a sin that young journalists fall into so easily. A true personality profile is not a long, long, long interview with the subject of the interview. That's too easy.

Thus, I have never been a fan of those first-person Rolling Stone feature stories, the ones in which the reader is supposed to be so impressed that the author of the story is right there, face to face with the remarkable celebrity who is being profiled. You know the kind of story I'm talking about, the kind that begins with one of those ledes that sounds something like this: "Julia Roberts and I are driving through L.A. and, for once, there is no traffic in sight, primarily because it's 2 o'clock in the morning and we're coming from a hot party at Brad Pitt's secret apartment near the Sunset Strip. Julia is driving and she has, at my request, let that famous hair of hers blow loose in the night air." Etc., etc., etc.

I made that up, but you know the kind of cover story I'm talking about.

This brings us to newsroom diva Sally Quinn's recent Washington Post profile of the Rev. T.D. Jakes, written, of course, for the slightly Rolling Stone-ish Style section. The headline set the mood: "Bishop T.D. Jakes: Living Large, and Letting Go -- At Midlife, The Minister Is Wondering What's Next." It's a long feature, even though it is, essentially, coverage of a tour to promote the Dallas superstar's latest book.

Am I the only religion writer who is having trouble (click here for background) adapting to the idea what Sally "On Faith" Quinn is now one of America's top writers on this beat? And if this is a profile of Jakes, where are the other voices in this piece, voices other than those of Quinn and Jakes? Where are the voices that provide a skeleton of facts about Jakes and what he believes? This man has plenty of critics. Where are they? Instead we get this opening, which sets the tone for the whole piece:

He's about to turn 50, and to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. It's time to take stock.

Is he happy? Satisfied?

Why wouldn't he be? This is the fabulous Bishop T.D. Jakes. Neo-Pentecostal preacher of the famous mega-church Potter's House in Dallas. He is a best-selling author, TV personality and head of TDJ Enterprises, which produces books, music and films. His church now has more than 30,000 members and when he last preached in Atlanta he drew more people than Billy Graham ever has. He lives in a mansion, drives a fancy car and wears sharp clothes. He is very, very big, literally and figuratively.

Still, he pauses a long time. "I am becoming satisfied," he says finally. "I feel like I have little to prove and none to impress. I'm starting to settle in like a bear in a cave in winter. I'm a lot more comfortable in my own skin than I used to be. I'm finding my own sweet spot and I'm enjoying these years."

This is what he recommends -- for you and for me, for all of us.

Truth be told, there are interesting quotes here. The reader does see Jakes through a unique lens, by which I mean the lens of what interests Quinn as one of The. Most. Important. Journalistic. Voices. Of. Our. Time. Way. Way. Way. Inside. The. Beltway. I am having trouble imagining the Post letting any other writer get away with this anti-profile, even Bob Woodward (who is famous for getting the powerful to open up and talk about each other).

So read the whole feature and see if you can find anything new about Jakes. Who is this story really about?

Your guess is as good as mine.

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